Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades
Nyuk! Nyuk! Nyuk! It’s the return of the Three Stooges, that trio of knuckleheads who slap, poke, kick, and punch each other to the delight of a largely male audience and the puzzlement of most females.
This comedy team started out in the ’20s as a vaudeville act known as Ted Healy and the Southern Gentlemen, where Moe Howard, his brother Shemp, and friend Larry Fine were the bumbling sidekicks (read: stooges) of a stage comedian who usually lost his pants at the end of the performance.
The Stooges later dumped Healy for a separate film career. In all, they appeared in 220 films – 190 of them Columbia shorts. Self-explanatory titles ranged from “Nertsery Rhymes” to “Dizzy Doctors,” “The Yokes on Me” to “Half-Wits Holiday.”
Mop-topped Moe Howard (né Moses Harry Horwitz) held the group together until the ’70s through a succession of health-related cast changes (Shemp was alternately replaced by brother Curly, as well as Joe Besser, Joe DeRita a/k/a Curly Joe, and others).
Known for their physical humor, they enjoyed a forty-year career, not counting ongoing television reruns. The World Book Encyclopedia used a photo of the Three Stooges to illustrate the topic of comedy. As Moe Howard once said, “If the encyclopedia recognizes the Stooges as the definition of comedy, then who am I to argue?”
Now they return to the screen as played by Chris Diamantopoulos, Will Sasso, and Sean Hayes in a new Farrelly brothers comedy straightforwardly titled “The Three Stooges.” It’s currently yuking it up at the Tropic Cinema in Old Town.
The Farrelly brothers – Peter and Bobby – are perfectly suited to this type of humor. After all, this directing duo gave us “Dumb and Dumber,” “Kingpin,” and “There’s Something About Mary.”
For the foils in this new outing, we have three TV actors. Diamantopoulos has guested on “The Sopranos,” “Nip/Tuck,” and “Boston Legal.” Sasso has been a regular cast member on “MADtv.” And Hayes was the longtime sidekick on “Will and Grace.”
When the film was first announced, the directors had hoped to cast Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, and Jim Carrey as Larry, Moe and Curly. The final casting led one blogger to comment, “In Hollywood terms, this is a bit like being offered prime fillet steak for tea and ending up with a dollop of Princes’ canned meat.”
The storyline for this farce is inconsequential: While trying to save the orphanage where they grew up, the boys uncover a murder plot and wind up on a reality television show. However, this is just an excuse for slapstick, broad jokes, and two fingers in the eye.
The original Stooges were so violent that Joe Besser had a clause in his contract prohibiting him from being hit too hard. My mother had a similar prohibition on roughhousing that followed watching a Three Stooges short.
This Farrelly brothers interpretation has a great supporting cast. Larry David (TV’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Seinfeld” creator) as Sister Mary Mengele, the nun who runs Sisters of Mercy Orphanage. Jane Lynch (TV’s “Glee”) as an acerbic Mother Superior. Brian Doyle-Murray (“Ghostbusters II”) as the monsignor who shuts down the orphanage. Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”) as a sister. Stephen Collins (TV’s “7th Heaven”) as the boys’ adoptive father. Sofía Vergara (TV’s “Modern Family”) as the villain. And guest appearances by Jackie Chan (“Rush Hour,” “Kung Fu Panda”) and Snooki (of TV’s “Jersey Shore” fame).
Farrelly brothers movies have a winning formula that’s been described as “lots of gratuitous sex, bodily fluids, broad humor, dopey men, slutty women, and jokes at the expense of others, including the unintelligent, the disabled and the fat.” So a Three Stooges tribute fits well into their filmography.
Bobby Farrelly says he and his brother grew up on Three Stooges comedies. “We’d come home from school when we were kids, and they’d run those shorts on TV, and we just watched them every day and learned every line. It was just so funny, you could watch them over and over. We’re huge fans.”
This shaped their own sense of moviemaking – “low-rent laughs with plenty of heart and a fair amount of puerile charm.”
Next up for the Farrelly brothers? “Dumb and Dumber 2,” a sequel reuniting Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels. Let’s just hope the casting doesn’t end up with Dana Carvy and Joe Piscopo in the title roles.
Wistfully, we’d like to see the Farrelly brothers’ legacy be one similar to that of the Three Stooges: They brought low comedy to a high art form.